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Dynamite found, used
Thursday, September 20, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
More than 500 pounds of decade-old dynamite found in mid-August in Henry County by heirs of a construction company owner were later used by an out-of-town company that does blasting work.
Henry County Fire Marshal Rodney Howell said the dynamite was hauled away Aug. 16, shortly after it was found.
“This was not something we took lightly, but it was not really a threat to the public,” Howell said. It was, he said, the largest amount of explosives in any incident in which he has been involved. “And to my knowledge, it is the largest amount” ever found in Henry County, he said.
The people who found the explosives initially called the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, which then contacted the Henry County Department of Public Safety, Howell said. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) was contacted for help.
The dynamite was in a building “on a large lot, pretty much in an isolated location,” Howell said. The property line, however, is adjacent to Bassett High School’s property line, he said.
Had the dynamite exploded, “it probably would have leveled the building it was in and damaged any surrounding buildings,” but it would not have affected structures off of the immediate property, he said.
“It was not a threat to the community or the school at all. It was a good distance from the school,” Howell said.
“It had been sitting there in that building for 10 years. It was kind of old. It really did not pose a danger,” Howell said.
The explosives had begun to swell, and the packaging was distorted, according to a newsletter from public safety.
It is not uncommon for earth-moving companies to have explosives on site, but special permits are required, Howell said.
Out of an abundance of caution, “we did inform the school of what was going on the day we moved it,” Howell said.
The dynamite was bought by its former owner before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Howell said. “At that time, the laws concerning dynamite and explosives were not as stringent” as they are now.
Now, for instance, before the dynamite could be moved, “we had to get permits” from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, Howell said.
Officials also worked with the Virginia State Police and the VDEM, and “cooperatively, we made arrangements to have it safely disposed of,” he said.
A blasting company from Grundy came and loaded the dynamite in a truck that was specially designed to carry it, Howell said. That “magazine truck” is built to “direct all of the force straight up rather than out to the sides” in case of an explosion.
The Grundy company “does a lot of strip mining. They had a blast scheduled for the very next day,” and planned to use the dynamite then, Howell said.
Public safety officials routinely respond to other potential environmental hazards.
For instance, they also responded to an illegal burning incident and illegal dumping of old paint and thinner containers in August, according to the agency’s newsletter.